I’ve had a few very kind anglers praise this project, and my ambition to eradicate skin cancer from our planet, and I’m grateful for every kind word, but I’d be remiss to take some kind of credit when there are people, and one specifically, who might not be blogging, who might not be on Facebook, but who is a hundred times the human being I will ever be, and who inspires me every day.
Pictured above is Marilyn Jones, my hero and my best and oldest friend. Ms. Jones, or ‘Nana’ as she’s know to those of us close to her, reminds me every day, every time I’m home, and with each phone conversation, how strong a human being can be, what we can endure, and how we can remain positive.
Marilyn Jones was born in 1934 into poverty, and has worked almost every day of her entire life. More than that, she has created a unique, accepting and loving atmosphere for her seven children and 13 grandchildren… a place where we all feel “home,” in a way we might not anywhere else.
When grandchildren started coming (I was the first in 1986), Marilyn closed up the doors of her yarn shop, where she knitted amazingly beautiful garments and sewed anything that needed mending, and began caring for the next generation. She watched me, my younger cousins, and a host of fortunate toddlers in Upstate New York and saw them through to the beginnings of adulthood. I have friendships to this day that were born in that daycare, and some of my closest friends are from those earliest days.
I am not, nor will I ever be a good enough writer to express how kind and compassionate, strong and beautiful of a woman this is, and I’d do her an injustice just in trying. In a single day, she’ll tell me she’ll mend ripped jeans, cook something delicious for dinner, tell stories from her past that will make you laugh until you cry, or cry until you laugh, and do it all in such a way that reminds you that there is nothing in life you cannot overcome… indeed she has been faced with and challenged by the most heartbreaking of human conditions, whether that was losing loved ones, suffering medical difficulties herself, or… most recently, losing her beloved West Highland White Terrier, Duffy.
But before she even has breakfast or reads the paper, takes her myriad of medications that keep her functioning as best she can, she has an idea for what to do that day, what can be accomplished, what problem can be fixed, what hope can be sewn where there was none before.
She is everything, every day, that I hope that I might some day become, and I am the most fortunate of men to have had her presence in my life for as long as I can remember.
“It is harder to have heroes as you get older, but it is sort of necessary.” – Ernest Hemingway
I’ve been in love, so to speak, three times in my almost 30 years here, but I’ll only bore you with two of the subjects that stole my heart: Sports and fish, or more specifically, the Red Sox and striped bass. It’s hard to remember which I fell for first. I was probably about four when I first noticed that the time that elapsed between my father’s car pulling in the driveway and his coming inside was longer than it should have taken any man to walk the 20 or so feet to our front door.
When I finally got up the courage to go out to car to see what was taking him so long, I realized that he was listening to a distant radio station broadcasting the Red Sox games from Connecticut. See… Richard N. Bach Sr. was, if nothing else, two things: A workaholic and a Red Sox fan. So, and perhaps this was divine intervention or perhaps it was coincidence: He was usually arriving home between 9:30 and 10 p.m., or, as baseball fans might call it: The bottom of the 8th at Fenway.
My father liked the Red Sox for one reason above all others: He hated the Yankees. A man born into poverty who worked for every cent, he despised the notion that a team could pay for talent and win with it, and he rooted for the Red Sox not like a man rooting for a ream, but like a man rooting against another one. He picked them, not because of what they were, but because of what they weren’t. They weren’t the professional, clean-cut, pinstriped millionaires that were forced down our throats on the Y.E.S. Network every evening growing up in Upstate New York. Pedro spoke broken english, Ortiz wasn’t beating out any ground balls to first and Varitek was more than happy to get in the face of the game’s richest player. I remember my father in a lot of ways: I do push-ups daily like we did together when I was a child, I try not to miss mass, even if I’m late like he usually was, and I always pull for the Sox.
Of the moments that we did steal together, many were on or near the water. He belonged to a Golf Club that had a pond stocked with largemouth bass. That… that is what I call divine intervention. The pond was next to a short Par 3, and he’d play the hole on a loop to work on his short game while I’d work on my subtle presentation of soft plastics to the resident bass.
I’ve been reading a great deal about the late Jim Harrison as of late. He was, it seems, a man larger than life. And it seems that he will be remembered in the great line of writers who have tried to wrap words around water. I say “line,” here, because what I love most about outdoor journalism, or as much as anything else, is that if you get into it… you inherit its history. There are any number of great sports journalists, but it’s unfair to say that there’s a lineage that follows. Some have waxed poetic about Ted Williams and the beauty of baseball and others on the unpredictable beauty of the N.C.A.A. Men’s Basketball tournament that my Syracuse Orange are currently still alive in. Because there are so many different sports (or at least four for our American purposes), it’s harder to carve out a lineage of great sportswriters who inherit the work of those before them and perhaps pass something on to those who will follow.
But in Outdoor Journalism, we inherit a history. Hemingway might be the most famous outdoor writer, but he’s a piece of a puzzle as old as a a hook and a typewriter, or even perhaps the pen.
And that is part of what I love about writing about the outdoors. We can look at all those who have come before us, the mark they’ve made, absorb it, inherit it and then try to make our own. If we are lucky, and I have been, the gatekeepers of the great institutions of outdoor journalism, like the editors at Outdoor Life and Field & Stream, Saltwater Sportsman and Florida Sportsman, the Drake and the Fly Fish Journal let us inside their walls for a moment, and let us carve our thoughts on the paper walls of their storied castles. I’m blessed to have left my mark inside each of these monuments to our love of water… not because of any talent I have, but because editors had faith in me that I’d share something worth sharing. I’ve tried, and I’ll leave it at that.
But in thinking about Harrison, and Hemingway, I’m reminded of why our particular field of writing, of content creation, is a special one: Whenever we pick up a pen, or sit down to a laptop to try to articulate what it is we love about the water, we inherit the history, the obligation, and the beauty of all those who have done so before us, in such profound and impactful ways.
Rest in peace, Mr. Harrison, and thank you for the crucial piece of this great puzzle that you contributed, one that we can only hope to inherit as and wield half as gracefully and beautifully as you did in your time here.
Alright, I’ll start this off with a fair warning: I’m a nerd. Certainly that word has had several meanings for different generations, but I think for the most part it implies that you care about something more than, perhaps, you should. For better or worse our society sees Apathy and indifference as “cool,” and so emotionally investing yourself in something risks your being called names. I’ve been called most, so I’m hopefully developing a thick skin. Who was, for all intents and purposes, the “King of Cool”?
I’ll give you a clue: He died driving a Porche in a reckless fashion, the same one in which he lived much of life. His legend is forever cemented in the immortality of youth and apathy toward danger. James Dean did, arguably, the “coolest” thing anyone can do: He died young and seemingly unafraid. We might give lip service to condemning that kind of behavior, but look around… we as a society are on our knees praising it. Hendrix, Cobain and Dean are all almost revered in popular culture.
When I was in High School, I absolutely fell in love with the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I was halfway through Return of the King on a school night, and I feigned illness the next day to stay home and finish it. Yeah… I was that bad. Something about (skip this if you’re not a LOTR fan) a King like Aragorn, disguised as a simple Ranger named Strider, was tremendously endearing. Perhaps we all want to believe that we are “more,” beneath the way we present ourselves to the rest of the world, and that concept embodied in Tolkien’s pages, and later on the screen, was an endearing one to a high school kid who got cut from every team he ever tried out for, save for bowling (They didn’t make cuts).
The most endearing thing about Tolkien’s work, which manifests itself in a great deal of literature, though… was a simple concept: Hope despite hardship. Tolkien chose hobbits, not kings or soldiers, to save the fate of the universe from evil overtaking it. Sure, a wizard helped… but ultimately it was a tiny creature from the Shire that defeated Sauron’s empire. To solidify my Nerd status, I’ll pull a second reference from Christian Bale’s portrayal of another of my heroes from youth: Batman. He says to Katie Holmes’ character at one point in the movie: “I am… more.” He was, in the movie, as was Frodo… “more,” than he appeared to be.
That kind of inspiration, and I’ve drawn it from several places, is what keeps me fighting this disease when I ask myself nagging questions like: “What will $4,000 accomplish against an illness that persevered, killing millions, despite trillions of dollars being devoted to cancer research?” What difference will this make?”
I try not to get too religious in my Catch a Cure ramblings… because I’m aware we all have our own faith… but a baby born to a carpenter in a manger might have seemed like an unlikely hero to save all of humanity at the time, too.
But Tolkien isn’t some obscure author you have to search through pages of Google returns to learn about. His work is published in dozens of languages, read around the world, it has become a million-dollar movie franchise, and he has a fanbase that spans the globe.
And although his prose was incredible, his understanding of language, fascinating, and his ability to tell a story, almost unparalleled… I don’t think that’s what has kept his works alive long after his passing.
I think that the central premise of his work is simple: Although the world at times can make us feel small and insignificant, that does not mean we are incapable of accomplishing incredible things.
As Tolkien illustrates… it wasn’t an army that destroyed the symbol of greed and evil… it was a small hand connected to a small creature… with courage much larger than his size might indicate, dropping the ring into the fires of Mordor.
And I know that millions, if not trillions of dollars have been spent fighting melanoma, the disease that killed my father… but when I read Tolkien, and stories as inspiring as his… I’m reminded that it’ll be the final dollar that funds the study that finds the cure that matters as much as all the ones that got us to the point where it might. And a dollar? That… that I can scare up, thanks to the help and support of so many companies, and individuals, that have come to my aid in this endeavor.
[And if you’re one of the 12 people who read this, please keep the secret of my not being cool to yourself]
I’ll admit that when I cross into what’s considered “The South,” I can’t help but change the Sirius Radio to the Highway, its country station. And I’ve heard the Tim McGraw song on a lot lately, and it’s resonated more and more with me throughout this trip.
If we have any type of success in whatever we attempt in life, it’s easy to start to think we’ve earned something, that because of what we’ve achieved, built or accomplished… we’re in some way ‘better,’ than those who have failed to do just that. I’ve been guilty of this, and I’m not proud of it.
But I think it’s important for us, throughout our lives, to look to others for inspiration and guidance, no matter how old we get. And when I look at the number of the people who’ve helped this project, not from some celebrity or business tycoon, but from a graduate student and freelance outdoor writer, it’s overwhelmingly evident just how many American people feel the exact same way, and live out that humility and kindness every day.
When I dreamt up Catch a Cure II, I sent e-mails to every company listed in the iCast catalog (the annual sportfishing trade show). Now we all open our e-mails every day and, unless it’s something from someone we know, we often disregard it. But the people at Get Vicious Fishing didn’t. The people at Native Eyewear didn’t. They opened the e-mail, their hearts and wallets and got on board.
The guides in Florida at BassOnline, who are the most professional, kind and helpful guys you’ll ever meet, didn’t hesitate to get right on board with the project, and went above and beyond to help out. Steve Niemoeller, Brett Isackson and Todd Kersey each went out of their way to see to it that Catch a Cure I, and II, got all the fish it could. Above all else, I want this project to be about hope, about a fun future for outdoorsmen that’s safer because it’s informed. And I could never create that kind of project alone, and those guys made sure I wouldn’t have to.
When searching for an outlet for this dream, I sent a Facebook message to B.A.S.S. social media editor Tyler Wade. How many of those must she get, in her job, per day? And she read mine, got back, and got on board for the project. That still amazes me every time I think about it.
And when I talked about my dream, of starting a beautiful fishing magazine for conventional (not fly) fishermen, an angler and professor named Gian Lombardo at Emerson College, where I’m a grad student, believed in it and got on board. He even helped me come up with an idea about how to build that very publication: By asking YOU what you wanted to see in it. And you can answer that question for me right here, and I’d greatly appreciate it if you would. And by the way, filling out this survey will make you eligible to win prizes, in case you need added incentive aside from getting the EXACT magazine that you want made for you.
And I never forget, when I’m out here, that most of the time this is enjoyable, if it’s at times challenging. But the people at the Melanoma Research Foundation, who are working with these dollars to fund the studies that WILL find the cure, they’re the ones who truly deserve a pat on the back, and our deepest gratitude. Katherine Daniels, specifically, has been a world of help to me as I’ve tried to figure out all the details that go along with a fundraising project like this one.
In truth, I’m kind of a shy young man. I don’t particularly relish being on camera to film these videos, or seeing myself in pictures with fish. I became a writer because… it seemed a preferable alternative to having to talk.
But when this disease came into my life, and my family’s life, I couldn’t help but see that as a challenge, to see it as having some purpose necessitating a response. Maybe I needed to see it that way, because UV rays causing malignant cells to spread throughout a loved one’s body and take his life, without any greater meaning in the grand scheme of things, is is somewhat hard to stomach.
And maybe life isn’t as complicated as we’d like to think, and things have a greater meaning if and when we decide that they do, for us, during that point in our lives.
But I know that the people who’ve come into my life through this effort, whether that’s the sponsors who’ve gotten on board, the people at Emerson who’ve encouraged the effort, the guides from Oklahoma to Florida who’ve helped… it has meant more to me than I can articulate. It has been a profound difference in my life at a time when I needed one. Their humility, kindness and help will stay with me forever. And most importantly, perhaps, when we as a species finally find the cure for this cancer, we can all say we had a small hand in that effort.
“Don’t take for granted the love this life gives you.” I’m certainly not.
It’s 1 a.m., so I suppose World Cancer Day is over. It was heartbreakingly beautiful to see the outpouring of support on all forms of social media in support of our battle against humanity’s deadliest foe.
I’m an optimistic guy, on most days I truly love my life and I’ve been blessed in so many ways. But I got to thinking about cancer, and what it means to me, what it has done to my family. And the temptation in today’s world of “share-everything social media,” is to remain constantly upbeat and optimistic in your presentation of self.
I’m reminded of a scene from one of my favorite films, Cinderella Man, when Paul Giamatti’s character, boxer Jim Braddock’s manager, opens the door to his New Jersey apartment to reveal that he and his wife have sold everything they own during the Depression. They’ve kept the apartment, “For appearance’s sake,” but it’s bare inside. I can’t help but wonder how many Facebook profiles that friends use to showcase recent meals, smiling faces and 24-hour happiness are hiding, to some degree, that emptiness underneath. And that might be fine, or even “strong,” had I not chosen a profession that demands, above all else, honesty.
I’ll shut the door on my apartment tomorrow, but on today of all days, it seemed a sin to keep it closed.
I’ve tried having a conversation with my Mom in which my father doesn’t come up, but it’s impossible. On the good days we laugh about how much we loved him. On the bad ones we don’t. Our house in Upstate New York always seemed big to the kid inside me that moved there from my grandmother’s basement at four, but it never felt as enormously empty as it has since he left.
Because in truth it’s not what cancer takes that makes the disease so awful. Sure, those last months spent with Hospice care, with the drugs making communication harder, with the nightly phone calls that you think might be the last… sure… they’re painful. And if I ever wish he were here, I think of those days and nights, and I’m glad he’s not… not like that.
But it’s the emptiness that it leaves behind that is the absolute worst. I know that I am not alone in all those moments when I’ve almost gone to dial his number, just wondering if he’d answer, somewhere. I know that there are millions like me, staring at their phones, wondering where that number goes, now.
It leaves so much behind: His shoes, suits, favorite books or old files. It leaves the hollow inside of everything that’s not him.
My father was the type of guy who never got so much as a common cold. I imagine he got in the habit of waking at dawn in the Army, where he served his country in Arizona and Alaska, and it never left him. Even at 77, he woke at 5 a.m. and was to work by 6. ‘Retire,’ was a word you used when going to bed for the night, not when discussing life and/or work options.
“He would have lived to be 100,” my mother always says. “Yeah.”
Saying that cancer “just takes a loved one,” is like saying that a wrecking ball only takes out the window it first collided with after the building that held that window crumbles.
I didn’t take great care of myself when my father was sick, which is no one’s fault but my own. I’ve rebuilt my life, because it is what he’d want, but it took a while.
If there’s a 27-year-old man that could have flown home to say goodbye, waded through a living room of Hospice nurses to hold a hand connected to an unresponsive father, and then continued with graduate school for a week, flown back to give the eulogy the next and then kept moving forward without missing a beat, I wasn’t that guy then.
I hope I am becoming a man capable of not only enduring that kind of pain, but using it for good. And the people at Outdoor Sportsman Group, B.A.S.S., and so many sponsors have helped and are helping me turn hurt into hope. I hope I am becoming that man in his memory.
I guess I wrote this because I wanted someone to know that if cancer comes into your life, steals a parent, a loved one, a friend… that you can get back up and be better for having known them, for having shared the part of your life with them that you did. I wanted that person to know that they’re still with you.
And as I sat awake wondering whether or not to write something so personal, I couldn’t help but think about what the purpose, the point of “writing,” as an art must be, at its core. And certainly we all have our own definition of that purpose, but I know that the writing that has most moved me, changed my life for the better, and inspired me, has in some way articulated an expression of one single sentiment: “You’re not alone.”
So if you’re feeling this way, or have felt this way, about a loved one cancer has taken from you, know that you’re not alone.
For many of us, “becoming” a fisherman isn’t necessarily a choice we give a lot of thought to. Often we’re handed a rod when we’re young, and if we’re lucky, we never really set it down. But there is a difference between becoming an angler and being an angler… and so many men and women I’ve met in my travels have proven time and again why anglers, and all outdoorsmen for that matter, are a type of human being you want on your side, in your corner and who, more than anything, you’d like to share some of this beautiful thing called life with. There are hundreds of times in my life this much has been proven true, but here are ten that are particularly memorable.
10. When I was fishing my way around the country in 2010, a marine artist and angler in the Florida Keys, named Pasta Pantaleo, noticed that I was sleeping in my Jeep in bar parking lots . He offered me his couch, and although I don’t think he realized I’d be there for the better part of a month, waiting on a celebrity to interview, he never once suggested that my company was anything but welcome.
9. On that same journey, a guy named Chris Senyohl, a guide in Seattle, put me up for more than a week and took me salmon fishing, sea-run cutthroat fishing, and even let me tag along for a pheasant hunt.
8. In this past year at Emerson, a professor (and angler) named Gian Lombardo has taken my effort to raise money for the Melanoma Research Foundation, and helped me turn it into an academic endeavor to give it added depth and purpose.
7. That effort wouldn’t be possible without a precedent set on Catch a Cure, thanks to Todd Smith and the guys at Outdoor Sportsman Group.
6. When I was an intern at Field & Stream, the then assistant web editor (now fishing editor) Joe Cermele made sure I wasn’t lost in the shuffle: He invited me fishing more Fall weekends than he didn’t, and when he was busy, he always made it a point to pull up a map online, and give me suggestions about beaches to fish.
5. In 2009, the guys at On The Water Magazine had more faith in a young aspiring editor than, at the time, he had in himself.
4. When I returned from the road, a guy named Brian McClintock invited me on board a publishing project he and his team was working on at the time called GoFISHn, and for almost two years, I got to live the dream: To write for a living.
3. I have three cousins, one a month younger than me, one two years younger, and one three years younger, all anglers, who for as long as I can remember, have stayed in touch, shared a laugh, and never failed to lift my spirits.
2.That multi-state fishing mission (#10) would not be possible were it not for a guy named Gerry Bethge at Outdoor Life, who believed a 23-year-old kid who claimed he was going to fish his way around the country, and gave him the means to do it.
1. My father, a man who by all accounts spent his share of time in woods hunting as a young man, never for a second discouraged me from chasing the dream of writing about the water.
My favorite book is The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. There’s beautiful language, it’s concise and moving and it’s important from a literary standpoint, but that’s not why I love it.
In the book, the fictional character Jake Barnes, because of injuries sustained in war, cannot be in a physical relationship with a woman, despite being in love with one.
When I first read the book, in my freshman year of undergraduate school at Syracuse University, I was immediately taken aback by what type of modesty and openness would propel a man to write something that many men would spend a lifetime trying to avoid the mere suggestion of. There are many causes for insecurity among men, and we all deal with them in different ways, but few seem as harsh as the one described by Barnes. What I loved most about the book was the honesty, even if it were fiction. It seems that some of the most honest writing is.
I think that to admire a quality without trying to emulate it constitutes some type of cowardice or hypocricy, so here goes.
I was on the train into Boston yesterday, working toward a Directed Study that would function in the capacity of a repeated Catch a Cure project, in Texas this time, and I was trying to post something on Facebook in commemoration of my father’s passing on that day, two years prior.
I just started crying. There have been plenty of times, his birthday, Father’s Day, talking to my mother, when I’ve swallowed those tears but the well where I put them must be full. I just miss him, I guess. Emotion isn’t typically terribly complicated.
When I was 24-years old I slept in the back of my Jeep Wrangler at the time for 200 nights, to fish my way across the country. I lost 42 pounds. Some nights, toward the end of that trip, were brutally cold, and I mean like 20-below, Ketchum-Idaho cold. I’d shiver myself awake in the night to blast the heat and fall back asleep. Since I was about 18 I’ve been covering myself in tattoos that I hope act as some means of telling my story even if I’m too quiet to. Some were smaller and took less than an hour, but others took three-plus hours and the needle lingered on the skin that barely covers the bone. When my father passed, I flew home from Boston, stood in front of a crowded church, and did my best to eulogize the man I loved. I say all of this to suggest that tears aren’t an easy thing to extract from me, by any means. I could count the times I’ve cried in the past decade on one hand, with fingers to spare.
And I was very hesitant to write this, but two notions gave me some solace. First, I am fairly certain that only a few human beings actually lay eyes on these words, and most of them know me well enough to know these things about me anyway. Secondly, I thought: perhaps, and more than likely, there are others out there feeling this too, going through what I’m going through, and what purpose does it serve for us all to smile and hide our pain so that we might, on the face of the matter, all seem to be utterly alone in how we feel?
Two years ago yesterday I was on a plane back to Boston, having visited my father for the last time, when my mother called to tell me he’d passed, and yesterday at that same time I was on a train into the city.
It’s pure coincidence that I was aboard public transport both days, but I find the circumstance strangely fitting.
On a train, or a plane for that matter, you both are, and are not, moving. You might be said to be sitting still while speeding over land at dozens, or hundreds of miles per hour.
And losing a parent, as many of you might know, feels oddly similar. I know it has been two years since I’ve held my father’s hand, heard him speak or tried to make him laugh. I know that time has moved, and me with it. But, like on a train, it does not feel as though I’ve moved away from the son who would call every night to exchange casual pleasantries and assurances that I am okay, along with questions about his well-being.
I remember the first thing I did when I’d heard that he’d passed: I tried to call his cell phone. He was a nervous guy, and because he was constantly afraid of losing potential business as a criminal defense attorney, he’d answer his phone no matter the time of day or night, without fail. It just rang. And rang. I was 27.
I’ve undertaken a battle against melanoma, the cancer that took his life, and absolutely everyone who has shared my content, purchased a T-shirt, donated a product or given a dollar has meant more to me than I can express. It feels like I am fighting back against the evil that did so much harm to my family’s life. It is not happiness, but it is some solace.
So when I thought about sharing this, I heard the voices of those who might potentially respond, and I’ve heard them aloud. “Nobody wants to read about cancer.” “Death is depressing, move forward, find happiness…” And I’m trying. Friends here at Emerson in Boston, friends from back home in New York, and so many anglers in Florida have made that so much easier for me than it might have been otherwise.
But I thought that perhaps out there there might be one other person, going through something similar, something equally painful, if not more so.
And I’ve read and debated and listened a great deal about the purpose of writing, or any art, but only one thing has ever made sense to me in a way I can’t shake. I believe that whatever we are saying, in words, images or with paint or drawings or photographs… should be some variation of one simple idea:
“You’re not alone.”
One angler's attempt to strike back against skin cancer.